Shadows of man-size leaves dapple the stones as my husband and I tread up a jungle path to our "Rejuvenation" treatment at the Banyan Tree on Mah`e island in the Seychelles. We arrive at a tropical aerie overlooking the Indian Ocean, where our feet are bathed in mint water and we sip bowls of ginger tea. After being scrubbed with crushed rice, apples, and honey, we bow our heads under outdoor showers while turmeric soap is poured down our backs. The massage lasts an hour. Outside, the surf is distant thunder.
Waves pounding like horses on turf are white noise in the Seychelles, a 115-island archipelago scattered across hundred of miles off the east coast of Africa, probably discovered by Arab traders more than 600 years ago. Early explorers, impressed by the tiny islands' pleasant climate, plentiful fruit and fish, and peaceful animals (plus lack of tropical disease), decided that the Seychelles may have been the original Garden of Eden. Despite centuries of human inhabitation, the islands retain a prehistoric aura: Colossal trees grows for 600 years or more, and the massive land tortoises carry their shells like portable bomb shelters, lumbering among steel-hard millipedes the size of frankfurters and harmless palm spiders as big as fists.
Because of their remoteness, the Seychelles are not cheap; they attract people who want privacy and presume luxury. The Banyan Tree is no exception. It opened last year and now has thirty-six villas on a stunning crescent of sand and jungle once owned by Peter Sellers and George Harrison, who gave up on developing it when a since-deposed socialist dictator took control in the 1970's.
As we lolled in the sun on the edge of our private infinity pool, it was hard to imagine doing anything as strenuous as trying to organize a people's - or any - government. Intimations of war may have been floating somewhere on the gentle breeze, but in this Eden it's easy to lose all memory of earthly troubles. Try as we might to retain it, our starched sense of duty wilted before the onslaught of ripe fruit, warm sand, and scented beds.
It didn't take us long to get used to the indulgences at our "villa", a two-room affair with white colonnades, an outdoor Jacuzzi, and a glass-walled shower that could become a steam room with the flick of a switch. Our view of the Indian Ocean was partially screened by palms just low enough so that we never had to bother with clothing. As Yanks given to self-reliance, it took us a bit longer to get used to the squadron of bowing staff desperate to do our bidding from reception to bathroom. For a while we tried to avoid them, but by the end of our stay, we were trying to think up things they could do for us.
In this corner of paradise, the nature, sights, indulgences, pampering, our beds made with jillion-count threads, were all lovely. Why did Adam and Eve ever rebel? Here, lies the trouble in paradise.